Dark Tranquillity / Omnium Gatherum / Exmortus / the Parallax Opera House, Toronto ON, February 8

Dark Tranquillity / Omnium Gatherum / Exmortus / the Parallax Opera House, Toronto ON, February 8
Photo: Adam Wills
With its brutal riffs, its aggression, its growls, death metal can (and often does) express the harshest emotions. But metal's power can also be the vehicle for more positive energies, and Dark Tranquillity's most recent Toronto performance was a perfect example, demonstrating death metal's potential (at least in its melodic form) to manifest as something happy.

During the opening progressive death metal set of Mississauga's the Parallax, the positive vibes were most obvious from their bassist (who looked most at ease on stage) and their vocal local following. The band's frontman did double duty on electric guitar, not unusual except for his choice to play the guitar on its stand for all but the last song, freeing him to move about the stage with mic in hand. The Parallax's key live strength seemed to be power chords and solos, the moments when things sounded most in sync.

Exmortus, up next, took to the stage with entertaining good humour and the authority of headliners, offering a thrash-y kind of death metal that sounded huge and blasted vitality. Their set (an awesome but too-short half hour) was rife with shredding and headbanging, bringing a little California heat to a cold winter night. Their final track, "Triumph by Fire," inspired a little mosh pit and delivered some guitar-trading acrobatics, both guitarists swinging their axes onto their backs to play each other's while contorted together like a heavy metal pretzel.

The music took a more melodic turn with Omnium Gatherum's performance, their first in Toronto on this, their first North American tour. Piling on the firsts, the Finns also featured the first live keyboard of the night, and though it's the guitar and synth melodies that drive their particular flavor of death metal, it was enthusiasm that drove their live delivery. Single-gloved frontman Jukka Pelkonen was especially charismatic and had a great rapport with the audience, even jumping down to shake hands and hug fans near the end of their set. A selection from 2008's The Redshift (soon to be reissued) was the oldest track they offered; their song choices heavily and successfully emphasized their newest material, especially last year's Beyond.

By the time Dark Tranquillity hit the stage, it was clear they'd have to be on top of their game to keep up, and despite the strangeness of seeing them perform without a live bassist (a decision made last year based on current band chemistry), they delivered. Their setlist covered a lot of ground, unsurprisingly featuring several tracks from Construct (their most recent) but also drawing from albums as far back as 1995's The Gallery. In a heartwarming moment, they also dedicated "Indifferent Suns" (from 2000's Haven) to the late Rob Cranny, Toronto metalhead and fervent Dark Tranquillity fan.

Video projections added an impressive multimedia backdrop to the band's set (and the snatches of lyrics joining the images onscreen made it easier to sing along). But as seasoned and engaging performers, Dark Tranquillity don't need help keeping their audience's attention, a fact driven home when Mikael Stanne left the stage to sing and crowd-surf simultaneously, one of many highlights of a satisfying hour-and-a-half. When Dark Tranquillity eventually said a gracious goodnight, their uplifting energy continued to resonate, long after the final notes of "Misery's Crown" finally faded away.